Home Page


 Delawriter Newsletter

 Education Opportunities



 Volunteer Opportunities

 Toolkit for New
 Medical Writers

 Getting Started in
 Medical Writing

 Freelance Resources for
 Medical Writers

  Home  AMWA.org  Contact  Disclaimer Saturday April 04 2020
 Toolkit for New Medical Writers

Toolkit for New Medical Writers
By the Delaware Valley Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association
Originally created by Lori de Milto, MJ, href="mailto:Loriwriter@comcast.net">[e-mail link:]


Opportunities in Medical Writing (top)

Medical writing is a great career! The work is interesting and often lucrative, and the demand for medical writers is high. Few people start out to be medical writers; most of us fall into it. Some of us have scientific or medical degrees (e.g., MD, PharmD, PhD in a scientific field) and have worked in the field (e.g., as an academic, bench scientist, physician, pharmacist) or in administration and somehow find ourselves doing medical communications work. Some of us have Journalism or English degrees, work in communications, and end up writing about health and medicine.
There are two basic types of medical writer: scientific and non-scientific or marketing. In general, scientific medical writers have advanced science-based degrees (science, medicine, pharmacy, etc.) and often learn about writing by becoming a medical writer. Marketing medical writers have a journalism or English degree and often learn about medicine by becoming a medical writer. Scientific medical writers generally do more scientific/technical writing for professional audiences. Marketing medical writers do marketing-oriented writing, often for consumers or lay audiences.

Scientific and marketing medical writing are two distinct career tracks. People who have the skills and backgrounds to be good scientific medical writers rarely make good marketing medical writers and vice versa.

Good career opportunities exist for both scientific and marketing medical writers.

Opportunities in Scientific Medical Writing (top)

Types of work scientific medical writers do include:
  • Advertising copy for pharmaceuticals and other products
  • CD-ROMs
  • Editing
  • Internet content
  • Journal abstracts and articles
  • Medical education materials
  • Monographs
  • Multimedia projects
  • Pharmaceutical marketing and advertising
  • Physician speeches and presentations
  • Posters
  • Regulatory documents (clinical trial reports, integrated summaries of efficacy and safety, investigator brochures, Investigational New Drug documents, New Drug Application submissions, protocols)
  • Sales training manuals
  • Slide kits
  • White papers
Employers and clients for scientific medical writers include:
  • Academic medical centers
  • Associations
  • Contract research organizations
  • Foundations
  • Hospitals/Health care systems
  • Managed care organizations
  • Medical advertising/communication agencies
  • Medical education companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Publishers
  • Web sites
Sample jobs for scientific medical writers (from the American Medical Writers Association’s Job Market) include:
  • Scientific medical writer for medical communications company: to prepare clinical and pre-clinical manuscripts, abstracts, and posters; clinical trial reports; and medical education materials
  • Medical writer for medical communications firm: to create pharmaceutical/health care educational programs
  • Medical writer for a pharmaceutical company: to plan, write, edit, and review clinical documents including study reports, investigator brochures, Investigational New Drug annual reports, manuscripts, and integrated summary documents
  • Medical writer for a health care communications company: to produce summaries of clinical data in a white paper format, develop continuing medical education programs, slide kits, and pharmaceutical promotional materialsPublications editor for an academic medical center: guide publications management from protocol inception to completion and publication of manuscripts, posters, and other formats
  • Director of scientific editing for a biotech company: to edit and/or re-write scientific papers and grant applications, and educate and train staff in scientific writing and editing
  • Freelance medical writer for health care technology firm: to prepare peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Opportunities in Marketing Medical Writing (top)

Types of work marketing medical writers do include:
  • Advertising copy
  • Articles
  • CD-ROMs
  • Editing
  • Internet content
  • Magazine articles
  • Marketing materials
  • Medical script writing
  • Newsletters
  • Patient education materials
  • Public relations materials
  • Proofreading
  • Proposal writing
  • Training manuals
Employers and clients for marketing medical writers include:
  • Academic medical centers
  • Associations
  • Foundations
  • Hospitals/Health care systems
  • Managed care organizations
  • Medical advertising/communication agencies (to some extent)
  • Pharmaceutical companies (to some extent)
  • Publishers
  • Web sites
Sample jobs for marketing medical writers (from the American Medical Writers Association’s Job Market) include:
  • Medical writer for Internet health care information and services provider to write for consumers
  • Science writer/public information officer for an academic medical center: write news releases, develop Web content, write articles for newsletter/newspaper, and work with media
  • Medical writer for medical communications firm: to create pharmaceutical/health care educational programs
  • Medical editor for medical communications company: create papers for peer-reviewed medical journals, abstracts, posters, and slide presentations
  • Freelance writers for a medical publisher: to write essays for a medical encyclopedia for consumers

Characteristics of Successful Medical Writers (top)

Although successful medical writers come from many backgrounds, we share certain attributes:
  • Knowledge of medicine or an aptitude for understanding it
  • Ability to write (most medical writing does not require us to write like Hemingway, but medical writers must be able to write clearly at a level appropriate to the audience and the project)
  • Education: College degree in science, pharmacy, medicine, journalism, or English. Scientific medical writing generally requires a scientific degree (science, pharmacy, medicine). Marketing medical writing generally requires a degree in journalism or English
  • Deadline orientation
Characteristics of good medical writing include:
  • Thorough research
  • Accuracy
  • Logical organization
  • Clear thinking and writing
  • Readability

Getting Started (top)

Learning About Medical Writing (top)

The best way to learn about medical writing, build your skills, make useful contacts, and explore career opportunities is by joining the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and getting involved with local and national activities. You can also pursue other types of informal and formal training.

Informal Medical Writing Training
  • Read medical and pharmaceutical journals
  • Use online Internet services to follow information about pharmaceutical company pipelines
  • Study basic textbooks on statistics
  • Read about the latest drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov)
  • Study medical terminology with software
  • Purchase and study medical writing dictionaries, style guides, and books on writing (see Resources)
  • Familiarize yourself with FDA guidelines for preparing regulatory documents (See Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations)
  • Keep your computer skills up to date
Formal Medical Writing Training
  • Take one course in pharmacology and one course in statistics
  • Complete a program of study in a basic science
  • Take courses and enroll in AMWA’s continuing education certification program (See AMWA)
  • Take medical writing courses or enroll in a medical writing program offered through colleges and universities (in the Delaware Valley: Thomas Jefferson University, Drexel University, University of the Sciences, etc. offer programs)

Employee or Freelance? (top)

Medical writing offers many opportunities for both employees and freelances. Whether to work for an organization or strike out on your own depends upon many factors, including your experience, financial needs, tolerance for risk, need to be around people, ability to sell your services, and personal drive. As an employee, you’ll have a steady paycheck, paid vacations, and benefits. As a freelance, you can set your own hours but often work longer than employees, and must be very focused to succeed. Your cash flow is uneven and your income may not be steady.

Most successful freelances work for years as a medical writer (or at least as a writer) before deciding to freelance. Freelancers work for the same types of organizations and do the same types of work as discussed under Opportunities for Scientific Medical Writers and Opportunities for Marketing Medical Writers. Freelances work for clients by the job (on an hourly or project basis) and also on a contract basis. Sample freelance opportunities include:
  • Advertising copy for medical communications companies
  • Clinical regulatory documents for pharmaceutical companies and technical writing firms
  • Copy-editing journal articles for publishers or associations
  • Entries/essays for consumer and professional reference books for medical publishers
  • Newsletter articles for associations, foundations, or hospitals/health care systems
  • Peer-reviewed manuscripts for medical communications companies and health care technology firms
  • Proofreading various materials for medical communications companies, foundations, pharmaceutical companies, publishers, etc.
  • Slide kits for medical communications companies

American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) (top)

The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) is the leading professional organization for biomedical communicators. If you are interested in any aspect of biomedical communication, you are eligible to join AMWA, which has more than 4000 members worldwide who work as biomedical communicators, including:
  • Administrators
  • Advertisers
  • Audiovisual producers
  • Authors' editors
  • College and university professors
  • Journal editors
  • Pharmaceutical writers, editors, and managers
  • Public relations specialists
  • Publishers
  • Reporters
  • Scriptwriters
  • Statisticians
  • Translators

AMWA offers national and chapter activities. Our chapter is the Delaware Valley Chapter.

National activities include AMWA’s continuing education certification program, the annual conference, a job market (online and in print), and publications. Explore areas of medical writing and build the skills you need to succeed through AMWA’s continuing education program: Core Curriculum and Advanced Curriculum certificate programs. In the Core Curriculum (four required and four elective courses), you can earn a certificate in one of five areas: editing/writing, educators, freelance, pharmaceutical, or public relations/advertising/marketing. You can take courses at the annual conference and chapter conferences. We strongly recommend that new medical writers take “Scope of Medical Communications,” an excellent panel presentation that provides an overview of medical communications. Panelists describe fields of medical writing such as the pharmaceutical industry, online publishing, popular press, marketing/advertising, public relations, and interactive multimedia education. They highlight the background and education needed for each of these fields, and discuss salaries, how to break in, and how to get ahead. Other courses include:
  • Bibliographic Resources for Medical Communicators
  • Business Aspects of a Freelance Career
  • The Creative Process in Pharmaceutical Advertising and Promotion
  • Developing Research Materials into Articles
  • English Usage and Abusage
  • Investigational New Drug ApplicationEssentials of Copyediting
  • Making Effective Presentations
  • Regulatory Aspects of the Drug Development Process
  • Statistics for Medical Writers and Editors
  • Writing the Final Report of a Clinical Trial
The Advanced Curriculum offers in-depth consideration of medical writing issues for members who have completed the Core Curriculum. AMWA also offers non-credit courses. The annual conference is a great way to learn about developments in medicine and medical writing, take credit and non-credit courses in medical writing, get practical advice through breakfast and lunch roundtables, and build your network. AMWA’s job market, available online and in print, highlights available job and freelance opportunities. Learn more about AMWA at www.amwa.org.

Delaware Valley Chapter (top)

AMWA’s Delaware Valley Chapter is one of the largest and most active chapters in the country. We have four meetings (dinner and a speaker) per year plus an annual Princeton conference. The dinner meetings are held in September, December, March, and June; they generally rotate between locations near Philadelphia International Airport (Essington, PA), Plymouth Meeting, PA, and Bala Cynwyd, PA. The Princeton conference is held in April or May. Attending meetings is a great way to learn about what other medical writers do, make key contacts, get advice, and hear a stimulating presentation. Most AMWA members are very supportive of others and happy to share their experiences with you. See our Web site (www.amwa-dvc.org) for information on upcoming chapter meetings.

Recent Meeting Topics

Recent chapter meetings include:

E-Health: The Impact of the Internet on Health Care Providers, Suppliers, Writers, and Consumers: Bruce Grant, Vice President of Publishing ePharmaceuticals,Medical Broadcasting Company (December 2001)

Drug Discovery in the 21st Century: John J. Baldwin, PhD, Chief Science and Technology Officer, Pharmacopeia (September 2001)

Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: What are the Issues? The Power and Promise of Genetics: Penelope K. Manasco, MD, Vice President, Worldwide Clinical Genetics, Communications and Education, Glaxo Wellcome Research and Development (December 2000)

Your Financial Future: W. Michael G. D’Allaird, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and James H. Scott, Miller Anderson & Sherrerd (September 2000)

Spirituality and Health Care: Dr. Harold G. Koenig, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, and author, Handbook of Religion and Health (June 2000)

Annual Princeton Conference

Each spring, our chapter hosts a day-long Princeton conference, featuring core, advanced, and non-credit courses. See our Web site (www.amwa-dvc.org) for information on the next Princeton conference.

Resources (top)

General Resources (top)

You can buy many of the books mentioned in this section, as well as other books and software, at AMWA Annual Conferences and medical school bookstores, which are open to the public (including at Thomas Jefferson University in Center City Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia). Some medical school libraries (including Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania) are also open to the public, but hours for guests are restricted.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food and Drug Administration
National Institutes of Health
Pub Med (searchable database of journal articles)
European Medicines Evaluation Agency

General Medical Reference
Mayo Clinic.com
Web MD
The Merck Manual
The Online Medical Dictionary

General Reference
Sharp Writer
Write Tools (many links to reference sites)
Writer’s Digest (how to books)

Associations and Societies
Board of Editors in the Life Sciences
Council of Biology Editors
Drug Information Association
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Disease-specific associations (a wealth of information)
For example, American Heart Association

Other Web Resources
Full-text journals
Instructions to authors
Pharmaceutical Information Network
Vancouver Guidelines

Style Guides
American Medical Association Manual of Style, 9th edition. Baltimore, MD et al.: Williams & Wilkins, 1998. Contact information: www.wwilkins.com, 800-638-0672.

Medical English Usage and Abusage. Edith Schwager (AMWA member), Phoenix, AZ, Oryx Press, 1991. Contact information: www.greenwood.com, 800-225-5800.

Mathematics into Type, Ellen Swanson, American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI: 1999. Contact information: www.ams.org.

The Elements of Style, fourth edition, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, Boston et al: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. Contact information: www.abacon.com.

Arthur Plotnik, The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists, New York, NY: Collier Books, 1982. Contact information: www.abacon.com.

Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993. Contact information: www.press.uchicago.edu.

About Writing
William Zinsser, On Writing Well , sixth edition. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1998. Contact information: www.harpercollins.com.

Robert J. Bonk, PhD, Medical Writing in Drug Development: A Practical Guide for Pharmaceutical Research , Haworth Press, 1998. Contact information: www.haworthpressinc.com. Selected by Doody's Journal as one of the best health science books of the year!

“The Science of Science Writing,” George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan, American Scientist, Volume 78, November-December 1990.

“Clinical Trials: An Overview,” Hardeo Sahai, Anwer Khurshid, and Muhammad I. Ageel, Applied Clinical Trials, December 1996.

Medical Dictionaries
Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 28th edition. Philadelphia et al.: W.B. Saunders Company, 1994. Contact information: www.harcourthealth.com/WBS.

Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, 26th edition. Baltimore, et al: Williams & Wilkins. Contact information: www.lww.com.

Freelance Resources (top)

Robert W. Bly, Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year , New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1990. Contact information: www.henryholt.com, 888-330-8477.

Marian Faux, Successful Freelancing: The Complete Guide to Establishing and Running Any Kind of Freelance Business, New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Contact information: www.stmartins.com.

Alexander Kopelman. National Writers Union Guide to Freelance Rates & Standard Practice. New York, NY, 1995. Contact info: www.NWU.com, 212-254-0279; NWU@netcom.com.

“A Marketing Primer for Freelance Medical Writers,” Lori De Milto, AMWA Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, Spring 1999.